Interesting leak in the Telegraph – but note that not yet agreed by other departments. The only new concession is the dropping of the complex +20%/6 year supply rule which the department was never able to properly explain never really understood itself. Though I suspect it may contain a reference to current best practice of including a buffer based on local evidence for sites that don’t come forward.
All the other changes – definition of sustainable development etc. long since flagged up, note no change at all flagged up on the issue of protection of the wider countryside.
By leaking now it seems the DCLG may be seeking to either minimise Treasury changes or have the public see the chancellors fingerprints if they are clumsily forced. The reference to being ‘watered down by …’liberal democrat ministers’ could not have come from a civil servant. As ever coalition policy making gets played out in public.
The final draft of the new planning rules, which will be published later this month, includes greater protections for heritage sites and the environment.
The new rules remove the need for councils to set aside land for 20 per cent for more housing than they need over a five year period.
The Government will also give councils up to two years to prepare for the change so they can identity and protect green spaces.
Ministers want to replace over 1,200 pages of planning guidance with a new 52 page document called the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to clear away red tape and to stimulate development and economic growth.
However, campaigners are concerned that the draft NPPF, which includes a new definition of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, puts communities at risk of large scale development and parts of rural England.
The Daily Telegraph is also urging ministers to rethink the reforms. Ministers hope that rebalancing the reforms will ease fears of countryside campaigners that the changes will give developers a “licence to build”.
The final draft is being circulated in Whitehall for approval by other department. There are concerns, however, that concessions to campaigners could be watered down by Treasury officials or Liberal Democrat ministers.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has yet to agree to the final draft along with Ed Davey, the climate change secretary, George Osborne, the Chancellor and Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary.
Treasury officials are understood to fear that the planning rules will dampen economic growth, while Mr Cable said in a leaked letter to the Prime Minister that planning policies inherited from Labour were damaging the economy.
He cited a recent example when Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government secretary, turned down the redevelopment of Pinewood Studios because it was on green belt land.
The Daily Telegraph understands that the new NPPF includes an explicit “brownfield first” commitment, which will require councils to favour development in urban areas ahead of rural parts of England.
It is also likely to include better protections for heritage sites, and a more balanced definition of “sustainable development” taking environmental concerns into account.
Communities will be given an 18 month to two year “transition period” to prepare for the changes and develop local plans, which will set out where building can take place in their areas.
MPs on the Communities and Local Government committee, together with the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England have called for the NPPF to be “rebalanced”.
Last night the committee’s chairman Clive Betts MP, who is pressing for a debate in the Commons next month on the new NPPF, told The Daily Telegraph: “We should have a document that allows planning of the right development in the right place. The draft document did not do that. Let’s get a document that does not have growth at any price.”
Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “What is important is that the final NPPF has a strong definition of sustainable development, giving equal weight to social, environmental and economic considerations.”
He warned that if the Treasury got the new NPPF wrong then planning policy would “will become a battlefield and it will become much harder to get the development the country needs”.
A National Trust spokesman added: “We have agreed all along that the planning system needs sensible reform, and we remain hopeful that the final policy will deliver a properly balanced approach to growth.
“An effective plan-led system can deliver the stability and consistency needed for businesses to prosper and communities to thrive, without detriment to our environment and landscapes.”
A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “The Government has said the final Framework would be published by the end of March. We are not going to comment on speculation about its content ahead of publication.”